Black AF: America's Sweetheart introduces a brand-new black superhero
We’re in the midst of an age of superheroes, but many of the colorful costumed vigilantes filling our screens and comics date back to the ’30s or ’60s. Fortunately, there’s plenty of room for fresh, original characters, and this week marks the bookstore release of the graphic novel Black AF: America’s Sweetheart, which centers on a brand-new black superhero named Good Girl.
Written by Kwanza Osajyefo and published by Black Mask Studios, Black AF tells the story of teenage hero Eli Franklin (a.k.a. Good Girl), who grew up with an adopted family, not unlike Superman. Since childhood, Eli has demonstrated incredible powers (including enhanced strength, flight, and even super-breath), and once she comes of age she decides to put those abilities to use fighting for justice. However, unlike most other superheroes, Good Girl lives in a world where only black people have superpowers — the world first established in Osajyefo’s original Black graphic novel. The government has tried its best to keep this fact secret from the public, but can’t stop Good Girl from using her powers to help people.
EW caught up with Osajyefo to discuss the ideas behind the Black stories and the impact of black superheroes. Check that out below, along with an excerpt from Black AF, which is on sale now. Order it here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get this idea for a Black sequel?
KWANZA OSAJYEFO: Black was always planned as three books, but the response from readers has been that they want more stories set in this world. The idea for Black AF was actually there from the beginning, but they are more like interstitial stories than sequels, since their purpose is to explore the breadth and depth of a world where only black people have superpowers — not continue the main story.
Jennifer Johnson’s colorful art in Black AF has a much different feel than Jamal Igle’s black-and-white illustrations for the first Black. How else do the two stories differ?
It’s a shift from a more mature story with a harsh, urban perspective to one that explores something a bit more innocent but still reflects what’s going on in this world, this time for people living in the middle of the U.S. To communicate that, we wanted to have an aesthetic that was softer and more colorful. Thankfully, our eagle-eyed editor Sarah Litt scouted out Jennifer Johnson and after seeing her work — it was an easy choice.
Black AF is hitting stores around the same time Marvel’s Black Panther film arrives in theaters, and in the middle of Black History Month. How would you describe the power and impact of black superhero stories?
I think this is just the tip of the iceberg for black entertainment. The impact and power of these stories is in the authenticity of the voices behind them. For most of U.S. history, the black narrative has been told through the lens of those inexperienced in blackness. That myopic approach has become trite, so for consumers this is all fresh and new territory — metaphorically, a Dark Continent they are eager to explore.
Kareem Jenkins’ adventures in the first Black echoed the X-Men, with its story of experimentation and paranoid distrust and familial tension. Good Girl’s story in Black AF more resembles Superman — an adopted child with unbelievable powers, who chooses to use them for good because of her upbringing. In your opinion, what makes a true superhero? How do Kareem and Good Girl both exhibit it?
Does it echo the X-Men, or do the X-Men echo the black experience in America? Sorry to answer your question with a question. I think what makes both characters true superheroes is overcoming obstacles. For both of these characters, it is not being defined by others’ idea of who they are. They both choose to do good in a world that fears them because despite sometimes being a hard decision, it is the right thing to do.
One element that greatly interests me about the Black comics is how vividly you depict the horrors of racism these characters face, whether it’s the lynch mobs and the evil Dr. Mann in Black or the implacable government in Black AF. Yet both Kareem and Good Girl choose not to use the lethal violence advocated by more radical supers like O and Zion. Why is that?
Because they don’t have to. Restraint, especially when you have the upper hand, is a difficult choice for anyone to make. These characters aren’t motivated by revenge despite their own hardships; in fact, that gives them greater empathy for others.
What can you tease about what the next Black story might bring for Good Girl and X?
That would be a spoiler, but I can say that X and Good Girl’s stories are not over.
Back in 2016, you wrote a guest essay for EW.com about how writer Dwayne McDuffie had influenced you. What other creators continue to influence your work today?
There are so many talented creators of color out there that I want to collaborate with or feel a friendly rivalry toward because their work is so awesome it inspires and pushes me to be better. This list would be too long and I’d want to name all of them — but melanin poppin’ in 2018!